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Mendocino County Today: March 20, 2013

Pinches
Pinches

SUPERVISOR JOHN PINCHES, according to Willits News staff writer Linda Williams, told the Brooktrails Community Services District last Tuesday that at least one supervisor favors removing Brooktrails completely from the Teeter plan, but that he, Pinches, does not share that viewpoint. The “one supervisor” is, of course, Supervisor McCowen who first raised the issue of the Brooktrails rolling scam a couple of years ago when he refused to support a routine item approving tax defaulted properties for sale at auction, noting that a majority of the properties were unbuildable vacant lots located in Brooktrails, but that most of the owners were Asian or Hispanic and lived in urban areas like Los Angeles or San Francisco.

BROOKTRAILS IS AMONG A HANDFUL of rural subdivisions, including Shelter Cove in southern Humboldt County, that were slipped through in the early 60's as “vacation villages,” and that no more than 25% of the lots would be in use at any one time, therefore the developers only had to show they had water to support 25% of the lots. Brooktrails was originally approved for more than 6,500 lots but never had water for more than 1,500. The state legislature soon repealed the law that allowed the so-called vacation villages, but too late to stop the Brooktrails scam. Once Brooktrails built out enough to use up the available water connections, the State Department of Health Services imposed a moratorium on any further water connections, which equaled a de facto building moratorium because the suburban residential-sized lots are too small for a septic system and leachfield.

EVEN BEFORE BUILDOUT was achieved, real estate sharpies specialized in churning the Brooktrails lots by marketing them to unsophisticated first time buyers, usually immigrants from urban areas, who bought sight unseen and without doing basic research to find out if water and sewer were available. Once these buyers realized they had been had, they'd quit making payments on their scam-a-rama lot. After five years the County of Mendocino can sell these lots at auction to recover the back taxes. The same real estate sharpies who sold the lots in the first place would buy them back at auction (having avoided the expense and hassle of foreclosure) and then start marketing the lots to a new set of victims. The victims thought they were getting a future building lot; the sharpies were getting a down payment and a few years worth of monthly payments (until the victims caught on); and the County was recovering the back taxes and penalties, plus 18% interest once the properties sold at auction.

MCCOWEN RIGHTLY OBJECTED that the County was truly complicit in fraud by auctioning off the unbuildable and therefore virtually worthless Brooktrails lots. But his colleagues seemed to agree with the County Treasurer that it was a buyer beware situation, and besides, the County turned a nice profit from the 18% interest and penalties.

AS SUBSEQUENTLY reported by Linda Williams in the Willits News, McCowen had only scratched the tip of the iceberg. Williams discovered that the Brooktrails lots were no longer selling at auction. Not even the real estate hustlers were buying the lots because the pool of immigrant buyers had dried up. The economic recession made even the low down payment and modest monthly payments less affordable, plus the steadily rising Brooktrails annual assessments for fire, water and sewer (for services the buyers would never receive) made it less affordable to hold onto the lots. As revealed by Williams, the Brooktrails vacant lots had blown a several hundred thousand dollar hole in the County general fund, something the County Treasurer never bothered to report to the Board of Supes.

THE TEETER PLAN (named for the state assemblymember who authored the legislation) allows counties to pay the property taxes up front to all the school districts, cities, special districts and others who get a slice of the property tax dollar. The cities and districts benefit by getting 100% of the property tax due them according to a set schedule. The county benefits, or is supposed to, by being able to collect the back taxes and penalties, plus 18% interest, until the properties are either redeemed by the owner or sold at auction. The Teeter Plan became a story a few years ago when it was revealed that instead of paying off the original Teeter plan “investment” (the cost of the original payout to the cities and districts) the County of Mendo had been dumping the Teeter plan revenue (the back taxes, penalties and interest) into the general fund and spending it for normal general fund expenses. The Auditor/Controller, the Treasurer and the CEO, who should have been sounding the alarm, stood silently by while the original Teeter debt more than doubled from $5 million to more than $11 million. In 2009 the Board of Supes put the Teeter debt on an amortization schedule and also ordered that all Teeter revenue be directed to paying off the debt, which is now down to about $6 million.

STATE LAW PROVIDES that a county may “de-Teeter” a district if the default rate rises beyond a certain percentage. A couple of other districts have high rates of delinquency, but only Brooktrails lots fail to sell at auction. Spurred on by Williams' detailed reporting, the Executive Office brought forward an agenda item to de-Teeter the Brooktrails CSD. According to Williams, as reported in the Willits News, by June of 2012 Brooktrails had cost the county about $800,000 in Teeter plan debt, including about $240,000 in Brooktrails sewer, water and fire fees.

ODDLY, BUT NOT UNPREDICTABLY, the Treasurer and the Auditor/Controller came up with a variety of excuses not to de-Teeter Brooktrails, including that it would not save that much money, might actually hinder paying off the Teeter debt, and would be too difficult and time consuming for staff. McCowen argued strenuously that it was not equitable to hand over several hundred thousand dollars of general fund money to Brooktrails knowing the County would not be able to recover the money. (Supervisor Hamburg seemed to be more interested in following the lead of the Auditor/Controller, a path that typically leads to inaction.) The item was continued to give staff a chance to further research the implications and mechanics of de-Teetering a district. When the item came back at the next meeting, the Auditor/Controller offered a compromise: de-Teeter the Brooktrails special assessments for sewer, water and fire, but not the ad-valorem taxes, which are based on the actual value of the lots.

THE SUPES UNANIMOUSLY approved de-Teetering the Brooktrails special assessments, but now the issue of completely de-Teetering Brooktrails seems to be coming back. The public discussion has also led the county to reassess the entire Brooktrails subdivision, resulting in a 16% decrease in assessed valuation for the district. It is not clear if the decrease was across the board, or only for the vacant lots, which should probably be assessed at or near zero since it is unlikely that more than a tiny number will ever be built upon. According to Williams, despite the lowered assessment, the County is still paying out about $200,000 more a year for Brooktrails than it takes in. Which means unless the County completely de-Teeters Brooktrails the County will, in effect, continue to pay a hefty general fund subsidy to Brooktrails every year. And the County general fund subsidy will only increase as more and more of the 4,500 vacant lot owners realize that their American dream of second-home ownership will never be realized in Brooktrails.

THE BROOKTRAILS BOARD also asked Pinches about his suggestion that Brooktrails could make up the shortfall in its budget by logging its greenbelt. Pinches recounted that the original developers of Brooktrails planned on financing future improvements by select harvesting of the greenbelt, something that could improve the overall stand and reduce fire danger if done properly. Pinches noted the advantages of having a good road network to access the timber, a nearby mill (Willits Redwood) and the relatively high prices for redwood, making Brooktrails, at least on paper, one of the richest special districts in the County.

Orth
Orth

BROOKTRAILS DIRECTOR TONY ORTH said he was not interested in logging the greenbelt. None of the other directors commented. Orth, who has been on the Brooktrails board for about 25 years, has been known to argue publicly that buildout of all 6,000 Brooktrails lots is a realistic possibility. (!) But even logging the greenbelt is unlikely to raise the kind of money needed to quadruple the current water supply. The Brooktrails board of directors is also on record as saying future buildout will also depend on construction of the Brooktrails second access, something that has been under discussion for what seems like nearly as long as the Willits bypass.

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Dhillon
Dhillon

HARMEET DHILLON, OF SAN FRANCISCO AND THE SEA RANCH, has been elected as the first woman and the first Sikh to serve as vice-chair of the California Republican Party. Dhillon, who is an attorney and owner of the Sea Ranch Woolworks yarn company, hopes to use technology to modernize the party's voter registration and outreach efforts. Good luck with that utterly futile quest. Anyway, She of the Golden Sword was elected with 80% of the votes at the state party's spring convention, but not before she was described as a “Taj Mahal princess” by the president of the San Bernardino County Republican Women. Undeterred, Dhillon, who clearly understands that dumb, mean white guys can't survive as a political party unless they include other ethnics of comparably limited understanding, was quoted in the Independent Coast Observer as saying “There's been a lot of mudslinging in this campaign, frankly, and I think the more we try to shun people and ostracize people because they may not agree with us 100 percent, that's why we're at 29.3 percent voter registration in this state.” Dhillon plans to broaden the Republican Party to include voters of Asian, Hispanic and Latino heritage, citing Texas as a successful model of Republican outreach to minority voters and office holders. Dhillon, who advertises her legal services in the ICO, claims that her law partners “have won international acclaim… particularly for our pro bono civil rights work on behalf of discrimination victims, refugees, and domestic violence victims. It is our honor to give back to the communities we serve.”

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THE POINT ARENA RECALLERS seem to have inadvertently offended City Attorney Joe Brecher to the point where he submitted his resignation. According to a story in the ICO, Brecher's contract is up for renewal. A committee of the City Council spoke with other attorneys and cities about what their attorneys did and at what cost. Brecher concluded the City was looking for a new lawyer and submitted his resignation. A round of finger pointing then ensued, followed, according to the ICO, by a discussion of “whether or not the attorney, who is contracted, falls under the definition of employee. There was no resolution.” The recallers recently paid off the former City Administrator, who served at the will of the Council, but who sued when she was terminated. City Attorney Brecher advised the Council that as an at will employee, the City Administrator could be let go at any time and that her lawsuit was groundless. The City Council ignored their attorney's advice and voted in closed session to pay the former City Administrator $90,000, reportedly cheering and clapping once they made the decision. Now the Council can't decide whether or not Brecher is an employee, although the fact that he serves by contract should be their first clue that he is not an employee. His letter of resignation should be the second clue. It may be that Brecher has grown tired of working with a group that routinely ignores his advice. A motion to accept Brecher's resignation failed on a 2-3 vote. The Council then decided to schedule the issue for closed session and invite Brecher to attend.

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MENDO FUTURES, one of scores, if not hundreds of do-gooder groups that fly below the radar in Mendocino County, has issued a letter to “Our Friends and Supporters” to update them on their work. Mendo Futures, now in its seventh year, offersFacilitation Training for Chaotic Times, which serves as the primary fundraiser for the group. The class, taught by Mendo Futures co-founder Steve Zuieback, has been taken by Ukiah City Manager Jane Chambers and Councilmembers Mari Rodin and Mary Anne Landis. (Natch!) Chambers recently tried to condense Zuieback's six month course into a one hour presentation to the City Council. By the time Chambers finished describing the “process enneagram,” the sane people in the room realized that the city had indeed been taken over by lunatics.

JUDITH HARWOOD, of the Harwood's of Laytonville/Branscomb, seems to be running the day to day business of Mendo Futures, which says it has “shifted its approach from creating and running its own projects to providing facilitation and consultation support to already existing efforts in the County that are consistent with Mendo Futures values and principles.” Quick, for a free facilitation training, name one, only one, project that Mendo Futures has created and operated. For a free consultation and bubble bath, recite Mendo Futures “values and principles.”

MENDO FUTURES spent much of 2012 working with inland Mendo's helping professionals to “redesign” mental health services in Mendocino County, now mostly provided by the Sheriff at the Mendocino County Jail where reality therapy is the strategic model. Mendo Futures says its “collective vision includes the integration of behavioral and mental health, a no-wrong door client-based approach, guiding each client through the full swath of services from health care to housing.” The Coalition for Mental Health Planning, as it called itself, brought together providers from a range of different, and even competing organizations, to collaborate on a response to the county Request For Proposals (RFP) to contract out all county-provided mental health services starting in June of this year.

AMONG THE GROUPS apparently were the warm-wonderfuls clustered like fruit bats on year-old bananas at the Ukiah Community Center, Ford Street Project, Redwood Children's Services, Tapestry Family Services, Mendocino County Youth Project, Manzanita Services and others too numerous, too depressing to list. Susan Era, (How Can I Miss You, Baby, If You Won't Go Away) who retired after thirty years of service with the County, was the facilitator for the group trying to design a response to the RFP at the same time that the RFP was being written. In addition to some combination of the above groups, proposals were submitted by several bands of wacks from out of the area. County mental health staff has reviewed the proposals, conducted interviews and is expected to make a recommendation to the Board of Supes sometime in the next month or two. Meanwhile, as previously reported, SEIU, which represents the mental health employees, has filed a lawsuit to try and block the county from contracting out for mental health services. SEIU claims that the county is doing a wonderful job and sees no reason to change. We understand that SEIU does not want to lose any dues paying members, but the failed mental health “system” in Mendocino County has been on life support for years. Mendo Futures also claims to be working on Local Food, Economic Development and Biomass Utilization.

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A 74-YEAR-OLD MAN appeared in the parking lot of Coast Hospital last Sunday morning where he placed a 911 call at exactly 9:45 to announce his death. Two nurses standing outside the hospital heard a gunshot. They ran inside, and the hospital immediately went on emergency lockdown. Officers from the Fort Bragg Police Department soon found the man where he said he would be, in the bushes beside his vehicle in the parking lot, a .38 revolver on the pavement. Carried alive but just barely into the nearby emergency room, the suicide breathed his last. He has not identified but assumed from identification found on him to be a long-time resident of the Mendocino area.

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Coate
Coate

JOHN COATE, the boorish station manager at KZYX, Mendocino County's pseudo-public radio station, accosted reporter Sheila Dawn Tracy after the recent board meeting to insult her directly about her reporting. Mr. Charm apparently doesn't like Ms. Tracy's work, although she's been more than fair to the marginally competent oaf. During the meeting, Coate had made faces and otherwise insulted Ms. Tracy while she spoke. The station's board of directors seem to find this kind of thing acceptable while they wonder why KZYX is dying as more and more Mendo people turn to KMUD next door in Humboldt County for their audio news and entertainment.

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MICHELLE GREGORY, Public Information Officer for the Dept. of Justice, has confirmed that the Northern State Marijuana Investigation team is conducting 12 related raids in Northern California. As of Tuesday morning, warrants were being served in Rio Dell, Fortuna, and east of Bridgeville as well as Sonoma and Mendocino counties, and San Francisco and other areas. She characterized the raids as all related to a “large scale marijuana investigation.”

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Shocked
Shocked

ON-LINE response to Michelle Shocked's homophobic outburst the other night during a Bay Area engagement: “I think that religion often masks mental illness, and I suspect that's what's going on with Michelle Shocked. I think we live in a culture where a monotheistic belief system excuses all sorts of delusions. If I feel like I'm hearing the voice of the Blessed Virgin Mary when I say the rosary, my neighbors, or at least my friends at St. Whoever's are unlikely to tell me I need therapy. If I'm reading the Book of Revelation, and I get a Word of the Spirit that tells me Michelle Obama is the Third Horseman of the Apocalypse, my buddies at the Holy Roller Tabernacle are probably not going to tell me I need anti-psychotic medication. If I see an angel in the sky while I'm driving home on 280, people are gonna say “Wonderful. Make a youtube video about it. You need background music? You can borrow my Yanni CD.” You go on the web, you'll find people who tell you they sit on the sofa and talk to God, and they know what God's favorite color is. I'm not saying that to be funny. This is a direct quote from some nut I saw on MySpace years ago: “Do you know what G-d's favorite color is? I do.” And if these delusions were coming from anywhere other than a Abrahamic belief system (or perhaps some other form of monotheism), we would say “You're a nut. You belong in the loonie bin.” But if you say “This belief came from God.” or “This belief came from my religion.” then we feel like we're not allowed to question it. Well, what happens when a crazy person keeps believing crazy stuff and nobody questions it, in my experience, is that the beliefs keep getting crazier and crazier until the person loses touch with reality completely, and I look at Michelle Shocked, and I say that looks like a person who has done exactly that, completely lost touch with reality, and I think it would have been a good idea if somebody had questioned some of her loonier beliefs before that happened.”

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